Christopher Dell, the U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe, told journalism students in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, that suppression of a free press has contributed to gross mismanagement and economic decline in their country.
Ambassador Dell noted that it is not U.S. sanctions, which affect only top government leaders, but rather misguided policies that have destroyed Zimbabwe's economy and created the highest inflation in the world. The inflation rate in Zimbabwe is approaching one-thousand percent. At least seventy percent of the workforce is unemployed.
It is not coincidental that information is stifled – in both the media and the government’s policy-making apparatus. As Ambassador Dell noted, it is hard to get unbiased information to correct bad policies when you get news from government dailies, government radio, or government TV.
Researchers have established a correlation between civil liberties and economic development. One only has to look at Zimbabwe’s neighbors in the Southern African Development Community to see that the region has moved toward greater democratic freedoms in the last five years, and has also shown significant economic growth. Zimbabwe, meanwhile, has passed repressive laws and has lost more than thirty-five percent of its gross domestic product.
The purity of drinking water in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, "has been unreliable for months", according to the New York Times newspaper. Dysentery and cholera swept the city in December and January. Harare suffers rolling electrical blackouts, and mounds of uncollected garbage pile up on the streets of the slums.
President George W. Bush cited Zimbabwe as one of several countries in need of increased freedom:
"At the start of 2006, more than half the people of our world live in democratic nations. And we do not forget the other half – in places like Syria and Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea, and Iran – because the demands of justice, and the peace of this world, require their freedom, as well."
Zimbabwe will not turn around without political and economic reforms. Laws restricting freedom of assembly and the press should be repealed. Property rights should be respected. And dialogue on the huge challenges facing Zimbabwe should take place between the government, political parties, and civil society. Otherwise, the crisis will worsen, and the outlook for ordinary Zimbabweans will remain bleak -- no matter what the government says.
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.